I had little basis to be as hyped as I was for the new Guardians of the Galaxy game. The E3 trailer looked pretty good, but Star-Lord was presented as bit of a “dude-bro” and the dev team (of modern Deus Ex fame) have a reasonable pedigree in the AAA space but nothing earth shattering. That coupled with concerns that the Comic book, super-hero genre is super-hard to get right, put me in a state of anticipation, but preparedness for disappointment. However…against the odds, Eidos Montreal crushed it! With an absolutely fantastic Marvel game and some of the best characters I have experienced since Mass Effect.
Guardians of the Galaxy – what now?
Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians have been shown to be very fertile ground for slapstick fun and action, particularly by the excellent MCU movies. The first movie I would argue being the best of all the Marvel Movies. Eidos have taken lessons from that cinematic adaptation, but thankfully held strong to the actual comic book origins of this rag-tag crew of the Milano. It took a while to suppress my pre-made MCU versions of Rocket and Star Lord in particular, but now “My Guardians” from the game are the real ones!
This game follows on closely from the Comics and the defeat of Annihilus in the 2007 story arc (with a few liberties taken to keep the story digestible for newcomers). Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket Racoon, Drax and Gamora are heroes or scoundrels for hire…depending on the contract. The story starts with a simple job to pay off some fines and eventually winds up being a battle for the Galaxy from religious nutters and also to save the ones they love. Eidos Montreal have deftly provided a story that is both personal and heartfelt, and also “Michael Bay-esque”, blow shit up, silly fun. It is excellent.
I played the whole game locked in as Peter “Star-Lord” Quill. Through this totally linear experience, I was kept company by my crew, with all the chatter and quips that makes the Guardians so personable and funny. Rocket testing my leadership at every turn, Drax stating facts with impunity to ones feelings, Gamora being brooding and frustrated and Groot being….well Groot.
The way they chirp and engage in conversations as missions, puzzles and traversal is happening is as good, if not better, than a Naughty Dog game. A big claim I know, but I cannot understate how well this game is written. So funny and well voice acted for an action game.
But to call this a pure action game sells it short. However, to say it’s an RPG oversells its scope. Guardians of the Galaxy lives somewhere between, as a very guided experience with choices. Dialogue options I chose as Star Lord had a definitive effect of my crews views on me and our mission. My choices even changed how later large set-piece moments played out or what options were open to me to get a particular mission done. For example, I argued with the Nova Core Worldmind A.I and convinced it to help fight these religious nutters. Later in the game, a large battle played out very differently due to their help.
It’s not what it looks like.
At first glance of gameplay it looks like a stock, 3rd person shooter with some lock-on targeting. But this is not accurate. Sure I could run about with Star-Lords blaster, but that’s not the real combat loop. There is a team of Guardians that NEED direction. So, each team member has skills and attacks that are executed via a quick button sequence amidst combat. The idea is getting enemies to ‘stagger’, so then takedowns can be prompted. It’s almost more a tactical squad game than a shooter in all honesty. If anything, the Guardians attacks are really cooldown powers at Star Lords fingertips. But it’s so cleverly handled that I felt like I was asking them to help. And if I wasn’t using them enough, the Guardians would yell at me, “What are we doing Peter”, or “Tell me who to destroy”.
The clever thing is it doesn’t ‘feel’ like a tactics game. It walks a fine line of speed, chaos and planning. I have never played a “shooter” like it. My only complaint is that it takes about 3hrs to get into any form of depth in the combat and then as fun as it is. The combat doesn’t really change again for the rest of the game. The only tangible additions effecting combat is the leveling up of the guardians to unlock various AoE or targeted attacks and Star-Lords Blasters get elemental blasts as the story progresses, these speed up ‘stagger’ massively. A total genius bit of design is when the “Huddle Up” special move can be used. Think of a literal mid game huddle and I got to choose a ‘pep talk’. If I chose right everyone’s powers increased and some awesome tunes would blast!
Stick to the end, this is a big call.
Between missions the Milano is a small hub which I explored and had conversations with my crew, learning more about them and building trust which has an effect later (no spoilers). Also on the ship and out in the world too are workbenches which Rocket uses to modify (my) Star Lords blasters and gear to give buffs. These are made with collectable resources found during mission. It was not a particularly complex process, not even close to an real RPG crafting system, more of a simple upgrade to my stats and if anything resulted in Star Lord being a bit overpowered by the end of the game. I think a New Game Plus run-through on Hard is in my future, to really test the systems.
Guardians of the Galaxy is like Mass Effect and Uncharted had a baby. It’s a crafted linear experience, with fantastic characters and story, brilliant voice acting, interesting dialogue choices, beautiful graphics and unique combat. And to boot, awesome music from the 70s and 80s features throughout and is a total joy to hear when playing a video game in 2021. Honestly it’s far, far better than it had any right to be.
Guardians of the Galaxy has come out of knowhere and impressed the flark out of me.
Four words…Game Of The Year!